Tim Hughes meets a band keeping alive the culture of the Louisiana swamps, and finds they are not everything they seem.

NO one plays Cajun music like Mama Rosin.

Their punchy gumbo of guitars, banjo and melodeon is a reeling, rabble-rousing riot, which evokes the mossy alligator-infested swamps of Louisiana and the freewheeling good times of Mardi Gras.

It’s exactly the sound you’d expect to hear from three young men from… Switzerland.

Yep, they may look and sound pure Deep South, but Mama Rosin actually hail from the shores of Lake Geneva in the shadow of the Alps.

Yet, frontman Cyril Yeterian, says that makes no difference.

“We play swamp rock,” he says. “It comes from the juke joints and bayous of Louisiana and the Creole, blues of the south and the Caribbean. And it comes from the heart; we express ourselves in the energetic way we play.

“Many people don’t believe we are Swiss, though. I suppose it’s strange that we come from the mountains but sing about the swamps.”

Unlikely as it seems, they began as a hardcore rock band, signed to the Swiss Voodoo Rhythm label before dabbling in American roots.

“We would sing old sailors’ songs and Irish folk in pubs in Geneva, where we would get drunk and create a new world,” says the guitar, melodeon and Cajun washboard player, who was born in Lebanon of Armenian parents.

“Then we discovered Cajun music, which is more powerful than anything else.

“We loved the raw energy of the music. That swampy blues sung in old French went off like a fireball in our heads. We started looking for the instruments used and collecting old records, and found it addictive; we knew it was our way forward.”

They named themselves Mama Rosin in tribute to an old Creole song and played around with the old tunes by plugging in their instruments and giving them punk, rock and garage overhauls.

And, it seems, people seem to be getting it.

“The more people hear of us, the better it gets,” he says. “Just this afternoon we were having a sandwich in a café and someone recognised us. We are starting to be famous!”

Word is spreading along with acclaim for their jumping live shows – which have included a slot at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow and an appearance on Jools Holland’s show. The release, last week, of their jazz and calypso-flavoured third album Black Robert, is only adding to the buzz.

And their blend of the old and quaint and new and disrespectful has been embraced by the Cajuns themselves.

Finding themselves in New Orleans and the remote bayou country of south west Louisiana at Mardi Gras, the band joined the festivities, leaving locals startled.

“They were really proud that other people were interested in their style,” says Cyril. “Most people playing Cajun and zydeco are similar in age to our parents.

“Some even said they were jealous of us for coming up with the idea of mixing it up with rock and punk. We don’t try and imitate them, and they like that. In Louisiana they wouldn’t have had the same idea. They really know how to party though,” he adds. “We were riding horses and chasing chickens… everything!”

Fans assured of the band’s success could do worse than making a little investment courtesy of Mama Rosin’s unusual gig merchandise stall, which – along with the usual CDs and T shirts – features something altogether more precious; a product bound to remind admirers that, yes, they really are Swiss.

“We are selling our own homemade schnapps!” laughs Cyril.“It is made from quinces grown in our garden, and is one of the nicest schnapps you can have. It’s like proper moonshine, but is very, very good.

“It is strong though, and we tell people not to drink it on the same night,” he adds. “They should wait two or three years, or even save it forever. Who knows, it might even be worth something one day!”

* Mama Rosin play the Bullingdon, in Cowley Road, Oxford on Saturday. Doors open at 7pm